Pileated Woodpeckers in Dunn Woods

I heard the distinctive and insistant call of a pileated woodpecker, (Dryocopus pileatus) in Dunn Woods today. I am relatively sure that is what I heard, as I pulled out my phone and opened Merlin Bird ID, and listened to the various other calls of other peckers: red-bellied, red-headed, downy and hairy woodpeckers, as well as the flicker. The call of the flicker was the only one that came close to the raucous call of the pileated, a repeated ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki. I made the call for pileated woodpecker over the flicker by the habitat. Dunn Woods has quite a few trees that have died since the big winds in 2011 when so many maples were downed. Dead standing trees are a cafeteria for pileated (and other woodpeckers), but flickers prefer to eat in more open habitats, walking on the ground to scare up ants and beetles with their curved beaks.

Pileated Woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus
Pileated Woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus

Pileated woodpeckers have been in Bloomington for many years. Before the property on Curry Pike became Cook Inc, it was a large beech grove, and everyone seemed to know that the woodpeckers nested there. So no one was surprised to see one in town working on an old silver maple. When that property was logged, I think the larger group dispersed around town, but I have no proof.

Over a decade ago I noticed that there were pileated woodpeckers in Winslow Woods park, they have been nesting in the many beech tree cavities in the park. I remember seeing them silhouetted against the sunset while I was working in community garden, and the sound of them calling in mature beech forest that covers that sinkhole rich park.

So it is easy to see why there was one in the woods today. There are quite a few large dead trees that make q buffet of carpenter ants and other insects for the peckers to eat. A lot of trees (a majority of them hard maple) were lost in the decimating winds of May 2011. But these trees most likely died from draught stress in the years that followed, and they are still standing and providing food and shelter for the woodpeckers of Dunn Woods.

Raptors at Bryan Hall?

No, not exactly, but a pair of Cooper’s Hawks have been nesting in Dunn Woods since I first noticed them in 2008. Their nests are easy to distinguish from that of the numerous squirrels in the woods, always very high, and made of sticks and stems rather than leaves. The latest one is in a large tree close to Bryan Hall, they have been observed by workers on the third floor, just a hundred feet or so from the east facing windows.

As you may now, Bloomington has had a winter influx of crows over the last few years, and they roost at night in large groups numbering in the hundreds. At dusk you can see them flying together to one of their favorite spots on the west side, at the courthouse, in Elm Heights and in Dunn Woods. Here they are at my house on a cold February evening.

So the city, and IU, have found a way to keep the crows away. Downtown on the square, at Bryan Hall, and at Morrison Hall, as evening comes on, squawks and calls from a variety of raptors are broadcast to the night skies. This seems to push the crows to another roosting spot (like Elm Heights), and thus keep the crow dropping off the parking meters on the square, and footpaths in Dunn Woods. But the giant murders of crows stop roosting in town as soon as the weather gets warm, apparently they have better things to do and places to be.

But IU keeps the recordings going through March and April (and maybe longer). This seems like overkill, and may well have kept the Cooper’s Hawks from nesting. At the very least it is keeping the mammals and smaller birds in on edge through sunset and dusk. I am wondering who to ask about having the recordings turned off now that the weather is warm and there is no need for the (disconcerting and annoying) recordings?

Charlie Bird Learns to Fly

After five years of bike riding, hiking, canoeing, and now sledding, Charlie Bird of Bloomington has learned about flying!

As he grew up in a cage (20 years), he never learned to use his wings to fly. Sometimes when we ride downhill on the bike we has flaps his wings a bit, but never fully spreads them out fully. On this trip down the hill at Butler Park, he got his wings fully extended and decided to flap away. I lost track him for a few seconds (I was tubing too), but you can see him sitting next to the slide at the end, he landed softly in the snow.

Mitch and Charlie Bird Tubing, and here he flaps midway down

Here Charlie Bird Flies!

Barred Owl in Dunn Meadow

Early last evening, during the light rain, I was walking home through Dunn Meadow. I noticed a student close to the wooded bridge, and she was off the path and staring into the darkness near the creek. She noticed me looking at her, and said excitedly: “There’s an owl!” 

I looked and sure enough there was a large owl sitting on a limb hanging over the Jordan. It’s stripped breast and size were a dead give away. She assumed the owl was fishing, but I opined that it was more likely looking for mammals or birds coming to drink, but after checking my books, I realized she could be right. That part of the Jordan has a fairly large shiner population, as well as the numerous birds, chipmunks, squirrels, shrews, raccoons and others who visit the Jordan for water. 

The owl flew to another low branch on the mulberry tree that crosses the creek near the bridge. I was able to get pretty close and watch his/her movements, and could see that the bird was definately watching the water. I got a couple of dark, grainy pics. From one angle you can see the outline of bird and branch, and in the other the barred breast is quite visible. I can testify that even in the rain, owls make very little noise when flying.

From Animal Traces in the Hoosier Uplands
From Animal Traces in the Hoosier Uplands

Decimation in Dunn’s Woods

Last night’s (May 25, 2011) storm brought down a second round of large trees in Dunn’s Woods, at least 10 percent of the large trees are down, many more are damaged.

Dunn Woods Tree loss from the winds of May, 2011
Dunn Woods Tree loss from the winds of May, 2011

On Monday, straight line winds knocked down a dozen large trees in Dunn’s Woods, all the paths were blocked were blocked by trunks or large limbs from nearby trees. I was happy to see that the Cooper’s Hawk nest had not been blown down, and the maple tree was somewhat protected on the east side of the woods. Two years ago a big storm had caused the parents to abandon the nest after the chicks had died. They moved the nest to the east side of the woods last year.

From Dunn Woods

I have been watching the nest, and saw the mom get up and resettle in, while the dad flew from tree to tree around the nest.

We live just a few blocks from the woods, and last night’s storms were loud, but nothing we had not seen before. So I was surprised to find just as many trees and limbs down in the woods today as from the storm on Monday. To my dismay, the large maple with the hawk’s nest was down. I climbed through the limbs to where I had remembered the nest to be, and found it with 2 baby hawks dead just a few feet from the nest. If they had not died from the impact of a 60 foot fall, they would have died of exposure as they had no feathers at all. One was much larger than the other.

I took these pictures, and then as I was climbing out from the limbs, I heard one of the adults call out (to me?), and then call again, I am sure they knew I was visiting the chicks. The other called from farther in the woods, it was a heart rending call of bereaved parents.

From Dunn Woods

City Birds

Last night I rode up to the Cascades waterworks between North Walnut and College. I walked out to the waterfall to see what I could see. I first noticed the crop of water lotus that was growing close to shore, and the flowers were just beginning to bud out. The yellow balls were about 2 inches wide, and should bloom fully when we get some warm weather. I went down to the water’s edge, with rush hour commuters on either side.

I looked across the water to the College side of the pond, and there was a young great blue heron standing on the wall and eyeing the fish in the water below.

Great blue heron Cascades Pond
Great blue heron Cascades Pond

But my attention soon changed focus as I heard and saw a pair of medium sized birds hovering over my head. From their calls, and eventually when I saw the male, I knew they were a couple of red-winged blackbirds, and really did not want me to come near the water lotus. The mom hopped about on the leaves sticking up out of the water, and called to me repeatedly while the dad would fly over my head.

I kept my attention on the water lotus as I thought I had seen a mammal swimming between the plants, but then realized that might be what was disturbing the blackbirds. I looked up and realized the heron had flown off in the meantime, and I started to leave also.

But as I walked along the water’s edge, I realized that the nest was not among the water lotus leaves (now I see that did not make sense), but rather in the uncut grass which defined the verge. I stepped into the grass, and was buzzed by the birds, so I am pretty certain I am right. Let’s hope the grounds keepers know enough not to mow that last foot of grass, it is a family home!

Hawks in Dunn Woods

Cooper's Hawk nest in Dunn's Woods

For several years I have been watching the Cooper’s Hawks in Dunn Woods, right behind Bryan Hall on the IU campus. I first heard them in the spring/summer of 2007, the juveniles were in a couple of different trees calling for their parents to bring food, their calls could be mis-heard as some jays, but when I saw them flying from tree to tree.

I’ve followed them through a series of 3 different nests in the woods, then move every couple of years. One year I did not hear the young ones, nor did I see them, I assumed the eggs or chicks were damaged during an early spring storm that blew through with hail and high winds.

This week I’ve seen them flying back and forth to the nest tree, watched them as they shift around will sitting on the nest. Dad will sometimes fly in close and land in a nearby tree, call a bit, then fly to the nest, then on again for another mission. From the sounds of all the other birds in the woods, and the abundance of squirrels and chipmunks, I am assuming they are not hunting there at this time.

I can’t prove it, but I think they have found that it pays to wait and let their fledglings hunt in the abundant, and relative safe, confines of the woods later in the year. Are birds that smart? Do they want to keep relative peace with their neighbors while the kids are young? I’ve seen a murder of crows chase a hawk out of the woods, but I’ve yet to see or hear them attack the nest.

Owls at Griffy

Barred OwlLast night (Friday), I was walking around the Griffy Creek valley just before sunset. As I descended the ridge a Barred Owl, Strix varia, started hooting from the other side of the ravine, and continued for about 5 minutes. I walked into the main valley and was watching the sunset sky through the silhouetted trees, when I saw a large bird fly from one ridge to another, rounded wings tips leading me to think it was the barred owl. But soon the unmistakable sound of a great horned owl, Bubo virginianus, filled the valley. Soon a second started hooting, but a bit more quietly, from the other side of the valley.

They called back and forth for 15 minutes, moving ever closer together, each with its own particular tonality and resonance. They were still calling as I left the valley after dark, and as it seemed like date night in the valley, I was happy to leave them to their good times.

From Mitch's Bike Maps

The Owl Box

It’s been far too long since I have posted, but I’ve been exploring quite a bit and have a bunch of new pictures and observations I want to share. But in the meantime, while tied to my computer, I love to snatch a look at the totally amazing Molly in her owl box. The owlets are enormous now, I’ve been watching since they were eggs (a couple of weeks.) They should try flying in a month or so, till then they just keep growing.

Bald Eagles at Lake Monroe

Jojo and I have been out yakking and canoeing on Lake Monroe this August, and reecently we got to watch a full grown (big) bald eagle circle above us. The wings were significantly larger that a buzzard, and we could clearly see the white head and tail. I grabbed the camera and got this low-res, fuzzy view, but you can make out the white, and the silhouette is all eagle.

The next week, we saw one in a dead tree overlooking the water. We paddled past and stopped to go swimming. After a while we saw one, then another eagle fly over head. First we heard a very unusual calls from the trees where we saw the first eagle, a descending series of resonant tones. The the other full grown and a juvenile were on the shore opposite us, and they called back. We were just out of the water when one of them circled above us, and then flew to the other side of the bay, and dived at the water. We didn’t see anything in the claws, but we were not sure.

Bald Eagle over Lake Monroe
Bald Eagle over Lake Monroe

Bald eagle at Lake Monroe
Bald eagle at Lake Monroe